Program Seeks Input & Participation from Vermont Produce Growers
Vermont is home to a robust produce industry with a regional reputation for quality, integrity and excellence. Comprised of roughly 1000 farms growing produce with over 4,000 acres in production, Vermont’s vegetables, fruits and crops generate over $34.8 million in sales annually according to the most recent Census of Agriculture. As consumer demand for quality produce continues to grow, so do the opportunities for increased market share for Vermont produce growers. In an effort to advance these opportunities, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) is excited to announce the launch of a new Vermont Produce Program designed to support the growth of the Vermont produce industry while they grow safe produce.
The goals of the Vermont Produce Program are to:
- Support Vermont produce growers in improving the safety and efficiency of fruit and vegetable production processes
- Help Vermont produce growers to understand, navigate, and comply with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) Produce Safety Rule
- Expand market access for Vermont produce growers
- Strengthen and grow Vermont’s produce industry and its reputation for excellence
- Strengthen and grow the Vermont brand and food economy
“Fruit and vegetable growers are an essential part of Vermont’s agricultural economy,” said Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts. “The new Vermont Produce Program is an excellent resource for growers—I hope we can all work together to develop and utilize this program to its fullest potential.”
The near-term focus of the Vermont Produce Program will be to help growers understand and navigate the changing landscape of on-farm food safety. Produce safety innovations are being implemented across the country, driven, in some cases, by consumer demand, and in other cases by federal regulations. The Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) Produce Safety Rule, a component of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) signed into law in 2011, establishes, for the first time, science-based minimum food safety standards for the growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption. This rule will impact farms that grow, harvest, pack, or hold fresh produce. Larger growers will need to comply with the rule in January 2018. Smaller growers will have additional time to adopt on-farm produce safety measures and comply with the rule. To learn more about FDA’s Produce Safety Rule and how it may impact your business, visit https://www.fda.gov/FSMA and select Final Rule for Produce Safety.
Over the next several months, the VAAFM Produce Program Team will work closely with growers, grower associations, and partner organizations including Vermont Farm Bureau, University of Vermont Extension, other state agencies and NOFA-VT to:
- Understand the landscape of produce farming in Vermont and establish a database of Vermont produce farms
- Develop a strategy for outreach, education, and technical assistance to all Vermont farms that grow produce
- Develop a comprehensive compliance program for farms that must comply with the rule, including routine inspections
The Vermont Produce Program Team encourages all Vermont produce growers to sign up for the Produce Portal to help build a full picture of produce farming in Vermont and gain access to resources. Access the portal at www.agriculture.vermont.gov/produceportal.
“The more we know about our Vermont produce growers and their businesses, the more effective we will be in developing an innovative produce program to deliver the right supports and services to meet the specific needs of our growers,” says Program Director Abbey Willard. “Grower input is critical to building a successful program – a big thanks to all of our growers who have already provided information and feedback through our portal.”
Since 2011, representatives from VAAFM have worked closely with the FDA to ensure that the new Produce Safety Rule can also be realistically and successfully implemented by diversified and small-scale producers, like many of the farms throughout Vermont and New England. Former Ag Secretary Chuck Ross played a key role in the development of the final rule and FDA’s approach to educating before and while regulating.
On-Farm Readiness Reviews
In the spirit of education before regulation, The Agency of Agriculture will offer On-Farm Readiness Reviews (OFRR). On Farm Readiness Reviews (OFRR) are a voluntary, non-regulatory visit to help growers prepare for a real inspection. A Produce Safety Rule expert will visit farms to help identify areas of strength and areas for improvement. VAAFM will offer this technical assistance to all interested produce farms and aims to do so before starting any regulatory inspections. Most Vermont growers will likely find that they are already largely in compliance with Produce Safety Rule requirements, especially if they are CAPS accredited or USDA GAP certified, but there may be additional opportunities to improve practices to align with the new federal rule requirements. Growers interested in having an OFRR must first enroll in the Produce Portal and check the box expressing interest in being contacted about an OFRR when the reviews are available.
Vermont Produce Safety Improvement Grants
To help offset potential costs related to coming into compliance with the PSR, the Vermont Legislature has set aside $150,000 to be distributed to produce growers over two years in the form of grants. VAAFM is working on developing the grant program now and applications should be available in late October. The funds will be used to help fund investments such as hand washing stations, plastic harvest crates, and other improvements that have been proven to reduce risk around produce safety. More details will be available next month in Agriview and online.
Since fall 2016, Vermont has been awarded $1.225 million from FDA to develop a state safety program. FDA has committed a total of $3.625 million to Vermont to support produce safety programming through 2021, subject to congressional allocations. Vermont is joined by at least 42 other states to build state-level produce safety programs which will implement outreach, education, and regulatory compliance around FSMA’s Produce Safety Rule.
What should produce growers do now?
- Enroll online in the Vermont Produce Program Portal.
- Find out if your farm is covered by the FSMA Produce Safety Rule: www.fda.gov/fsma > Final Rule for Produce Safety or contact Kristina Sweet at Kristina.Sweet@vermont.gov or 802-522-7811
- If your farm is exempt, keep supporting documentation.
- Attend a Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training: November 7–8 in Richmond, VT.
- Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training – November 7–8, 2017
- Compliance for Large Farms – January 26, 2018
September is here. Kids are back in school, the days are cooler, and Vermont’s apple orchards are brimming with fresh, juicy apples, just waiting to be picked. Now is the time to make plans to visit your local orchard with friends and family!
According to the Vermont Tree Fruit Growers, our state produces around 1,000,000 bushels of apples annually – that’s about 40 million pounds! Over 50% of those apples are McIntosh, but there are more than 150 varieties grown here in our state.
Donuts, cider, sauce, and pies await you at orchards and farm stands across the Vermont. To find a pick-your-own location, or a farm stand near you, visit the Vermont Tree Fruit grower’s website, where you can search by county http://www.vermontapples.org/vermont-orchard-listing/
“Apples have always been an important part of Vermont’s agricultural economy and working landscape” said Anson Tebbetts, Vermont’s Secretary of Agriculture. “We are seeing a lot of growth in the hard cider category, and of course apples play a big role in attracting tourists to the state this time of year. We appreciate all our apple growers do to create opportunity in our rural communities.”
To learn more about Vermont’s apple industry, visit http://www.vermontapples.org
Pilot program open to agricultural producers committed to excellence in environmental land management.
By Ryan Patch, VT Agency of Ag
You can tell a lot about a farm by looking closely at the soil. That's why the new, statewide program to recognize Vermont's most environmentally friendly farmers will be based on soil-sampling and monitoring. On July 13th, Governor Phil Scott announced the pilot launch of the new Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program (VESP), which will use soil-based analysis to identify farmers who are going above and beyond to protect our natural resources.
Surrounded by state and federal officials at the North Williston Cattle Company, owned by the Whitcomb family, Governor Scott emphasized the important role farmers play in Vermont communities.
“Vermont farmers are contributing to our economy and keeping our landscape beautiful and productive,” said Governor Phil Scott. “This new, science-based program will use soil health data to help us identify and honor farmers who are going above and beyond the regulations to protect our natural resources.”
The program is a partner effort by the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Vermont Association of Conservation Districts, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, and the University of Vermont Extension.
“We are still accepting VESP applications, and encourage farms of all types and sizes to apply,” added Vermont’s Ag Secretary, Anson Tebbetts. “We want farmers who are going the extra mile to be recognized and celebrated for their efforts.”
Tebbetts noted that many partners across the state and federal government came together to create this innovative program.
Following Governor Scott’s remarks, farmers Lorenzo and Onan Whitcomb gave a tour of their farm, including their robotic milker, and discussed some of the conservation practices they employ, including no-til corn, cover-cropping, and buffer strips.
To apply for the VESP Pilot, farmers must be in compliance with all State and Federal environmental regulations, and be actively farming their land.
Applicants for the VESP Pilot will be selected for participation through a competitive application ranking process on a rolling basis; there is no fee to participate. Five to 10 farms will be accepted into the pilot program, which will inform the final parameters of the Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program, launching in 2019. For more information, please visit: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/vesp
About the Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program:
Conceptualized in 2016 in response to statewide water-quality and environmental challenges, the Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program (VESP) is a voluntary program that encourages and supports local agricultural producers to achieve environmental and agricultural excellence. VESP’s goal is to accelerate water-quality improvements through additional voluntary implementation efforts, and to honor farmers who have already embraced a high level of land stewardship.
Using a combination of on-farm natural resource assessments and Cornell soil health tests, VESP applicants will be evaluated by a team of conservation planners and technical service providers to ascertain current land-use practices. The resulting data is used to set customized environmental goals for the farm, and to enact a long-range plan encompassing a full range of regenerative farming practices.
To be certified under this new program, applicants must meet high environmental standards regarding nutrient management, sediment and erosion control, soil health, greenhouse-gas emissions and carbon sequestration, and pasture health. If the applicant meets the standards in each category, he or she will be awarded with a 5-year certification, an on-farm sign designating the farm as meeting high levels of environmental stewardship, and other recognition-based incentives.
If the farmer does not meet the standards designated under the VESP program, he or she can elect to work with VESP technicians on a conservation plan to implement best-management practices to achieve those standards. While working toward certification, the applicant may be eligible for additional financial and technical assistance to help achieve VESP standards. Once approved, VESP-certified farms are eligible to re-certify after five years, and will have periodic verification assessments to ensure continued land stewardship throughout the duration of the five-year period.
The Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program is a partner effort by the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Vermont Association of Conservation Districts, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, and the University of Vermont Cooperative Extension.
During the 2017 legislative session, state lawmakers modernized Vermont laws that regulate livestock movement in the State. The information in this letter will inform you of these regulatory changes and provide you with contact information and other resources necessary to effectively implement the new requirements. As with any new law or rule, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture (VAAFM) will spend considerable time educating and providing technical assistance to farmers and licensed dealers/transporters regarding these statutory updates, which became effective on July 1, 2017, prior to taking any enforcement action against violators of the new language.
These statutory changes are contained in Act 30, which can be viewed at the following link: http://legislature.vermont.gov/assets/Documents/2018/Docs/ACTS/ACT030/ACT030%20As%20Enacted.pdf
What are the requirements?
• Act 30 requires all livestock being transported within the State to satisfy the requirements for
Official identification for interstate movement under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal Disease Traceability rule, 9 C.F.R. part 86 prior to leaving the property of origin, regardless of the reason for movement or duration of absence from the property. Livestock include dairy and beef cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and camelids. Examples of livestock movement within the state that this requirement applies to include transport from the farm of origin to a slaughter facility, movement to a new farm location, and transport to a fair or exhibit.
• There is already an existing requirement for animals to be officially identified for movement between states. Animal disease traceability, or knowing where diseased and at-risk animals are, where they've been, and when, is very important to ensure a rapid response when animal disease events occur. An efficient and accurate animal disease traceability system helps reduce the number of animals involved in an investigation, reduces the time needed to respond, and decreases the cost to producers and the government.
Any exceptions to the intrastate identification requirement?
• Livestock transported from the property of origin for purposes of receiving veterinary care at a hospital in Vermont are exempt from the ID requirements, provided that the livestock are returned to the property of origin immediately following the conclusion of veterinary care.
What is official identification?
• The definition of official identification does not include back tags.
• Official identification is defined as a nationally unique number that is permanently associated with an animal or group of animals and that adheres to one of the following systems:
1.National Uniform Eartagging System (NUES). NUES ear tags are generally metal and begin with an official state number followed by three letters and then four numbers. The official state number for Vermont is ’13’.
(2) Animal Identification Number (AIN). AIN ear tags begin with an official country code followed by an additional 12 digit for 15 digits in total. The official U.S. country code is ‘840’.
(3) Location-based number system.
(4) Flock-based number system.
• An educational handout illustrating the different types of official identification can be found at http://agriculture.vermont.gov/node/1371
What official identification methods are used in Vermont and how do I obtain official ear tags?
• Metal ear tags (NUES tags) and 840 ear tags (AIN tags) are commonly used in Vermont by livestock owners. For many years, VAAFM has provided metal NUES tags at no charge to farmers, veterinarians, and livestock dealers. Please call the Animal Health Section at (802) 828-2421 to request tags.
• AIN 840 tags may be purchased from most ear tag distributors.
What are the next steps?
• VAAFM strongly encourages all livestock farmers, dealers, transporters, market personnel and other industry partners to review Act 30 and contact the VAAFM Animal Health Office with any questions.
• VAAFM Animal Health staff will be working with impacted businesses and farms to ensure proper implementation of these new ID requirements for intrastate livestock movement.
• VAAFM staff can assist farmers with obtaining ear tags and answer questions about the requirements and official identification.
What resources are available?
• Animal Health Office – (802) 828-2421
• Official tag illustration - http://agriculture.vermont.gov/node/1371
• Federal interstate movement requirements - https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/SA_Traceability
By Alissa Matthews
More than 45 farm and food vendors will descend on the Waterbury State Employee Complex to share local food with state employees and community members this Thursday, 8/3 from 3pm – 6:30pm. All are welcome at this fun, family-friendly event! Meet local producers, enjoy live music, and enter raffles for great local prizes at the Waterbury Farmers’ Market. Originally envisioned as a way to increase state employees’ access to local food, the Buy Local Market has evolved to become an exciting event for the whole community. After two successful years on the Statehouse lawn in Montpelier, this is the first year the market will be in Waterbury.
What: Buy Local Market, including local food, BBQ cook-off, live music, and more!
Where: Horseshoe Lawn, Waterbury State Complex
When: Thursday, August 3rd from 3pm – 6:30pm
Note: There are two more Buy Local Markets scheduled for 2017, both on the Statehouse lawn in Montpelier: Wed. 8/9 from 3-6:30pm, and Wed. 10/4 from 11am – 2pm.
Video: Here’s a peak at the fun from last year’s Buy Local Market in Montpelier https://www.facebook.com/vtagencyofag/videos/10159138277455344/
For more information, visit http://agriculture.vermont.gov/producer_partner_resources/market_access_development/buylocalmarkets